Barcode Long Island: Exploring Biodiversity in a Unique Urban Landscape

  • Project Description

    In collaboration with Stony Brook University (SBU), Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the DNA Learning Center invites high school students and teachers to participate in Barcode Long Island (BLI). With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the project mission is for students to gain an intuitive understanding of the crucial interdependence between humans and the natural environment.

    BLI uses DNA barcoding to explore, document, and track biodiversity on and around Long Island, through distributed experiments by student research teams, led by trained Long Island educators. BLI provides students with real and relevant research experience while they contribute to our knowledge of their environment. In addition, the project measures the effect on teachers and students and tests the feasibility of a large student-based barcoding initiative. BLI provides all the training, equipment, materials, and infrastructure needed to support this large-scale student-driven research effort.

    Long Island represents a unique laboratory for studying the interaction of human beings with the natural landscape; it is a dynamic environment affected by ocean currents, sea level change, climate change, and human activity. Long-term human occupation, agricultural use, and increasing urbanization have had profound effects on the terrestrial and aquatic environments, affecting water quality, hydrology, soil, and radically changing both the flora and fauna. Conservation efforts also aim to restore or protect the remaining natural environments. These changes have implications for the health of the ecosystem and Long Island residents.

    Among all this change, species lists and data on the ranges of species are often limited, especially for invertebrates, both aquatic and terrestrial, fungi, and non-vascular plants. A major hurdle to the mapping of species is the difficulty in identifying them. DNA barcoding reduces this barrier, allowing non-experts to objectively identify species once a DNA barcode is established. Just as the unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each consumer product, a “DNA barcode” is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that identifies each living thing.

    With DNALC, SBU, AMNH, and BNL staff plus a network of scientists from local institutions as support, students are guided while they design experiments. Students are encouraged to seek out and collaborate with stakeholders, including governmental and private organizations, so their efforts synergize. Alternatively, student teams can opt to join BLI campaigns to document and map species diversity of key groups of organisms, including marine invertebrates, insects, invasive species, vectors for human disease, or biological indicators of water quality.

    Students prepare samples, isolate and amplify DNA or analyze their results at Open Lab sessions at BNL, SBU, and DNALC facilities, or at their school using a footlocker containing all equipment and reagents needed to conduct the wet lab steps of DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. Once amplified, samples are sent for sequencing and automatically uploaded to the DNA Subway website for analysis.

    Each year, students present their results during a poster session at a BLI Symposium. In addition, experts are invited to speak about their efforts to study the biodiversity of Long Island.

  • Abstract

    We aim to increase students’ understanding and interest in science through independent student-driven research projects that use DNA barcoding to study the unique biogeographical regions of Long Island New York. Barcode Long Island (BLI) will enable teachers and students to gain an understanding of the interaction of natural environments and human well being while increasing their knowledge confidence and interest in science. The BLI will build on strong collaborations between the DNA Learning Center (DNALC) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Stony Brook University (SBU) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and Dowling College and an established network of Long Island schools. BLI will develop and provide all the training equipment materials and infrastructure needed to support this large-scale student-driven research effort.

    In the first year we will focus on planning and building the partnership between participating institutions and Long Island school systems and developing project infrastructure. Over the course of the program 600 student teams comprising 1,800 students will be led by 240 teachers trained at workshops held at BNL, SBU, and two DNALC locations (Lake Success and Cold Spring Harbor) that span Long Island outside the boroughs of New York City.

    Workshops will introduce teachers to DNA barcoding experimental design laboratory and bioinformatics methods lab kit components and detail how teachers and students can participate in BLI projects and campaigns. With DNALC, SBU, AMNH and BNL staff plus a network of scientists from local institutions as support students will be guided while they design experiments analyze results and present their research at annual symposia.

    A multi-faceted evaluation program will assess: impact of the training on faculty participants’ knowledge behavior and teaching confidence how faculty implement the project in a variety of student research settings and effects on student learning interests and attitudes. Longitudinal surveys of participants will be supplemented with structured teacher and student interviews focus groups and project case studies. Internet project resource use and database submissions will also be monitored to track project outcomes. The structure of this program—with planning implementation and evaluation components—is designed to determine the feasibility and impact of large-scale studies of biodiversity through student research.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    The program is open to science or science research teachers from high schools on Long Island, in Brooklyn, or in Queens who attend a training workshop to become a certified mentor. Following training, teachers may mentor teams of 2–4 high school students enrolled in grades 9–12.

    Teacher training workshops held at BNL, SBU, and the Dolan DNALC location in Cold Spring Harbor introduce teachers to DNA barcoding, experimental design, laboratory and bioinformatics methods, kit components, and detail how teachers and students can participate in BLI campaigns. Three, week-long workshops are offered during the summer.

Project Photos

Project Audience

High school teachers and students

Subjects Addressed

Biology, genetics, DNA, DNA barcoding, bioinformatics, gel electrophoresis, science, environment

Associated SEPA Project(s)